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  • 5 minutes
  • 11/01/2023

Islington Borough Council and the Affordable Workspace Programme

Can social value provide more impact than commercial value? Islington Borough Council show us how.

Islington Borough Council has shown exactly what is possible by taking a measured approach to social value. In just three years, the team delivered an astonishing £1.24m of social value, Their approach demonstrates how making the National TOMs your own can generate real change both internally and with partners.

The London Borough of Islington faces significant challenges in its distribution of wealth. The people who live there range from those working in the area’s global economic clusters to families living in deep poverty. This inequality has been exacerbated by Covid and now the cost-of-living crisis.

Finding ways to create a more equal society, Islington Borough Council worked with Social Value Portal to report and measure ways to lock in local wealth and prosperity for everyone’s benefit. Taking this measured approach meant that in one project alone, the team delivered 90% of the contract value in social value, totalling £1.2m. The incredible amount of social value generated has created life-changing opportunities for many people.

Introducing the Affordable Workspace Programme

In 2020, the council decided to tackle business inequality through a pioneering Affordable Workspace Programme. Generally, affordable workspace is priced at 80% of market value, but in Islington, this is still too expensive for many people The average cost of a desk in Islington is £375/month, according to Hubble, compared to £220/month in Bethnal Green. Smaller businesses are priced out of the borough and the knock-on effect is lost local spend as businesses look elsewhere to set up shop.

Under its draft Local Plan, Islington Council asked developers to provide to the council 10% of constructed office space as genuinely affordable workspace at peppercorn rent, for at least 20 years – up from the previous target of 5% of space for ten years. The council committed to pass on this rent to workspace operators, without taking a commercial income.

The Islington Council team faced a clear challenge: how could they procure the right operators and compare bids for spaces? To find a method to do so, they turned to Social Value Portal and the National TOMs, the national framework for delivering and measuring social value.

“Using Social Value Portal and the National TOMs was a simple way to help us look at what we want to derive in exchange for that space to the benefit of Islington residents and businesses,” said Caroline Wilson, Director of Inclusive Economy and Jobs at Islington Council. “We looked across our services against a series of TOMs Measures to understand what to target.”

Making the National TOMs their own

The team first sent out the full list of TOMs to potential bidders, which proved too exhaustive and daunting. Instead, Social Value Portal helped the team to identify five key areas of social value to prioritise, aligned to the council’s corporate objectives. From then on, each tender document includes questions on each area.

“We don’t prescribe how partners meet objectives, but align it to our corporate ambitions about tackling poverty and inequalities in the borough.” Caroline said. “We ask them to produce a social value plan against those ambitions that describes how they will deliver against the five areas over ten years of a lease. Overall, we ask them to deliver at least as much in social value as we would have gained financially through a commercial lease.”

The programme started in March 2020. Despite the pandemic, three facilities have been launched in that time – Space 4, which is a tech for good coworking space, Fashion Enter, which is a manufacturing space for local people in fashion and garments, and Better Space, which is an incubator for social enterprises and social impact businesses.

Between March 2020 and April 2022, these three spaces generated a colossal £1.24 million in social value.

“We’ve been blown away by the success,” Caroline said. “It’s an important message because we could have derived commercial income, but we can say publicly that this has delivered far in excess of what we would have gained financially. We work hard with our partners and are intimately involved in all of the coworking spaces, making sure our residents and our local businesses get the best value from them.”

Life-changing opportunities

At Space 4, 28 apprenticeships have been generated and 394 weeks of training and nearly 1,000 weeks of work experience has been delivered. The facility has provided nearly 8,000 hours of career support sessions, which equates to £554,114 in social value for this service alone.

Caroline said: “The organisations who operate the workspaces are true partners in delivering social value. The matrix motivates them to innovate across a range of our corporate objectives, and it incentivises creativity. And fundamentally, beyond the numbers, it’s the stories of our residents whose lives have been changed by access to the programme.”

The Affordable Workspace Programme continues, and Islington Council has a pipeline of affordable workspaces on the way across the borough. Inspired by the £1.24 million of social value derived so far, the council wants to embed the programme into the planning process, beyond the existing section 106 requirements. The team is also extending the use of underused council assets such as garages to provide even more space.

This has all stemmed from Islington Council’s engagement with Social Value Portal and the National TOMs, Caroline said.

“Social Value Portal has been a great partner, challenging us along the way,” she said. “We couldn’t have done it without the collaboration, inspiration and tools they’ve given us. At a time when council budgets are under incredible pressure, it has allowed us to demonstrate better value than cash in the bank. We are still on a journey, but it is clear that social value is a major contributor in our efforts to make a real difference for our local residents and small businesses – spreading wealth and prosperity more fairly in the borough. Onwards!”